Alternative Media: The Health Portal Race

How can pharma capitalize on the competition heating up among health Web sites?
Jul 01, 2005

Debrianna Obara
With the heightened focus on DTC ad spending, companies are directing more of their consumer ad dollars online.

In fact, in 2005, online advertising is where it's at. TNS Media Intelligence predicts that the medium will grow by 11.2 percent this year alone. Flexible and far-seeing advertisers will ride that wave by shifting DTC dollars from TV to the Internet, where they can present more educational content to consumers through state-of-the-art online portals.

The good news is that both advertisers and clients will have more online choices than before. Search currently is the first entrance point for many consumers seeking health information. As most of the players in the paid search arena run off a bid marketplace model, any company can get in the game as long as its bids are competitive. But many sites are expanding their health content too, as evidenced by health sections being added or expanded on iVillage, ThirdAge, and

Despite more inventory available, media rate inflation appears to be increasing sharply as more and more advertisers vie for the space—particularly in areas deemed "premium" such as health content areas. Those areas with content targeted to specific disease states are still hard to come by, so there's often competition for ad space that surrounds relevant content.

And in light of these rapid changes, the portals are poised for the fight. And the gloves are coming off. This article discusses the changing landscape among the large portals and how pharma advertisers can make the most of the shifts taking place.

The Contenders To understand how the online environment is changing, it's helpful to examine the important players.

WebMD Anyone who has investigated online health content most likely has discovered that WebMD has created a commanding brand, the source for consumer health information. WebMD has done a fair amount of TV advertising (in 2004, an estimated $33.7 million according to TNS), and partnered with both MSN and AOL to build strong distribution channels for its health content. (But it has changed some of its partners in 2005.)

Health Portal Spending
Many companies have sunk their entire online ad budgets into WebMD alone, believing it can deliver all the qualified health reach needed for a successful online campaign. Yet those companies may be surprised to find that the rules have changed this year with the entry of some serious health portal competition.

Yahoo! Yahoo! has been biting at WebMD's heels with syndicated health content and exclusive health channels since 2002. According to AdRelevance, WebMD has garnered $1.2 million (two percent) of pharma's online ad dollars to Yahoo!'s $14.5 million (23 percent). It's worth noting, however, that AdRelevance doesn't track spending on content integration deals, which makes up a bulk of WebMD's ad business, and therefore is grossly under-representing WebMD's total ad dollars.

With a more aggressive approach, Yahoo! launched revamped health sponsorships in 2005. The portal wants to have one exclusive health partner per health condition. But instead of maintaining content for every disease, it is focusing on mega-conditions, such as allergies, depression, and GERD, where there is enough competition to warrant a high price tag to own the inventory.

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